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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarian Reading

Vegetarian Books

Each issue the VIP birds endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we feature a book that shows that one can survive and even thrive in spite of food allergies and sensitivities.

Food Allergy Survival Guide:
Surviving and Thriving
with Food Allergies and Sensitivities

By Vesanto Melina, Jo Stepaniak, and Dina Aronson

Healthy Living Publications, 2004
Paperback, $19.95

Relief is on the way. The relief for allergy and food sensitivity sufferers doesn't come in bottles of pills or medications, but instead in foods, some to be eliminated, others to be added. In Food Allergy Survival Guide two dietitians and a cookbook author/recipe designer have combined their talents and extensive knowledge of food to help people find solutions to allergy and food sensitivity problems.

Vegans may feel they are on the road to avoidance of food allergies because they have eliminated many of the foods that trigger reactions. True, not including eggs, dairy products, and seafood lessens the chance the body will react to food allergens, but foods common in a vegan diet like wheat, soy, and nuts could present their own problems.

The authors begin by distinguishing between food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances. The general public readily combines all of these under the food allergies heading. While food allergy is a reaction of the body's immune system to a food ingredient, food intolerance is a reaction that does not involve the immune system. Food intolerance generally concerns foods, food ingredients, or additives that affect the digestive system not the immune system.

Food Allergy Survival Guide Food sensitivities run the gamut from mild to severe and can affect an individual's respiratory tract, skin, mucous membranes, nervous system, and digestive tract. Symptoms can include hives, itching, sneezing, runny nose, earache, migraines, dizziness, fatigue, depression, nausea, indigestion, constipation, and muscle aches. In some cases, like an anaphylactic reaction, one bite could lead to death.

Dr. Michael Klaper joins Vesanto Melina in a special chapter called Creating and Maintaining a Healthy Intestinal Boundary. Discussing the role of the intestinal tract, the two reveal how harmful bacteria can produce byproducts that injure the intestinal wall making it permeable or "leaky." This leak in the wall allows molecules to pass through to the blood stream and leads to food sensitivities.

Klaper and Melina offer suggestions on supplements that can help restore beneficial bacteria, but their principal advice is to eat " a balanced diet of cell-building plant foods that supply a wide range of nutrients and protective substances." They strongly recommend probiotics, live microorganisms in fermented foods and supplements that improve the balance of intestinal bacteria. They also tout prebiotics, food substances that pass undigested into the lower intestine and also encourage a favorable balance of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are soluble fiber found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains.

In the chapter Food Sensitivities and Various Conditions, Melina and Aronson focus on nine conditions that have been linked to food allergies and intolerances. Included here are arthritis, asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, candida, dermatitis, depression, digestive disorders, fatigue, and migraines and other headaches. For all of these the authors offer suggestions for alleviating the conditions. For example, dermatitis, especially eczema, may be triggered by foods such as milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy.

To assist people in discovering their own problem foods, the authors discuss the various allergy tests, but offer less expensive methods like maintaining a food diary or following an elimination diet. They provide a simple program called the Do-It-Yourself Elimination Diet and Food Challenge.

The authors devote an entire chapter encouraging readers to become food detectives in order to learn of potentially harmful ingredients hidden in food products. Quite helpful are the numerous tables that show ingredient names that do not clearly indicate the allergen. For example, two tables focus on egg protein. One lists the terms that sometimes or always indicate the presence of this protein. The other indicates foods that sometimes or always contain egg.

Almost half of the book is devoted to approximately 180 recipes provided by Stepaniak. All of the recipes are free of the most common allergens that include dairy products, eggs, fish, shellfish. wheat, gluten, soy products, peanuts, kiwi, baker's yeast, nutritional yeast, and brewer's yeast. Strawberries and nuts are optional in a few recipes.

With the elimination of gluten and the grains that contain it, baking may be a problem for celiacs or those with gluten sensitivity. Grains that contain gluten are wheat, rye, barley, kamut, spelt, tricale, and sometimes oats. Recent studies have shown that the protein in oats may not cause the same reaction as these other grains. Unfortunately, oats are subject to cross contamination because they are sometimes milled and processed in facilities that handle other grains that definitely contain gluten.

For those who want their cake and eat it too, Stepaniak has provided a number of tips. But most of all, she has developed Jo's Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix and a Corn-Free Baking Powder that are used in the baking recipes in the book. These mixes are the basis of recipes for breads, muffins, cakes, pies, and cookies, items that could conceivably present problems for the gluten-sensitive.

Because many commercial seasoning blends may contain ingredients that could trigger reactions, Stepaniak provides recipes for herb and spice blends that can be created in one's own kitchen. These international flavors include Berbere from Ethiopia, Gomasio from Japan, Garam Masala from India, and a Kickapoo Spice Blend from the United States.

Other recipe categories covered are breakfast dishes, dips and spreads, salads and dressings, soups, main dishes, sauces and gravies, simple side dishes, and treats and sweets. Most helpful is a section called Kitchen Basics and Cooking Fundamentals that offers tips on cooking grains and beans on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker. Ingredients That May Be New to You offers a glossary and discussion of foods that the reader may want to stock in the kitchen pantry.

The book concludes with a chapter of Resources listing sources of food and supplies, multivitamins and minerals, supplements, books, publications, and software. The authors even include their email addresses and phone numbers.

The numerous tables that list foods containing a particular allergen will prove most valuable to allergy sufferers. Table 5.13, for example, provides an extensive list of common foods that sometimes or always contain corn. Many people would never suspect that iodized salt, bleached flour, yogurt, and baked beans would be on the list.

Food Allergy Survival Guide, a treasure trove of information for both vegetarians and nonvegetarians, is a reference resource that belongs in every home because it provides a comprehensive guide to navigating the perils of food sensitivities. Not only does this guidebook detail the myriad of sensitivities, but it also helps readers discover they can avoid certain problem foods and still enjoy flavorful eating.

Reviewed March 2005

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